Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Strange Victory

Although this happened over 20 years ago, I can still recall the call from Ed.

He was in a jovial mood, so my defenses immediately shot up.

"Do you remember Francis, the man you pushed us to hire last year?"

I did. Ed's department had an abysmal record when it came to hiring African Americans. As the EEO Officer, I finally told them that they could not make any job offer until it had been cleared with me. They danced around a bit with Francis, but even Ed - who would have been sent by Central Casting if you'd requested a white bigot - had to admit that a black man was the best qualified candidate, so Francis got the job.

His success was part of a long journey that I'd taken with Ed.

Ed had started out regarding any outreach program as a bleeding heart employment project for incompetents. In time, he began to realize that we were serious when we emphasized hiring the best person and that the best candidate could even be a woman or minority. You would never have reached Ed by extolling Affirmative Action much less diversity but he could buy into equal opportunity and he was even more enthusiastic about getting people who'd do a decent job. It took a few years, but some sources began to report that the bigot from Central Casting had become a closet supporter of equal opportunity.

That's why I was more than curious when he called about Francis. "What's up?"

Ed drawled out, "I have some good news and some bad news."

"You are enjoying this far too much. Tell me the bad news first."

"Well, the bad news is Francis, that fine worker you recommended, got into an argument with another employee this afternoon."

"Yes."

"And he stabbed him."

"Good Lord! Did the guy die?"

"No, no. The man will live. The stab wasn't that bad, as stabs go."

I stared out the window. "What's the good news?"

Ed lived for moments like these. "The good news is that it appears the other man started the fight and Francis can claim self-defense. So we aren't going to fire Francis. We'll suspend him for a few days, but he'll keep his job."

It was then that I knew that Francis had achieved a whole new status in that department. If he'd been a poor employee, Ed and the team over there would have jumped to toss him out the door.

Now, they were twisting and turning to save his job.

I asked Ed to keep me briefed and put down the phone. Some days, you take your victories where you can find them.

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